Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It Happens Everywhere

We received this comment on the Religious Lace post today from Charismania, a site we have referred to before and have listed as a link. It was so amazing that we decided to post it in addition to having it as a comment.

Charismania said:

My husband and I are convinced that there's some "playbook" somewhere for these things. It's utterly amazing how what you wrote could describe our former church exactly. When we started attending, the messages were much more scriptural, much more Bible-based. But as the years passed, we watched a gradual descent into church-as-show, with all the stupid catch phrases, the extreme emphasis on money and giving, and way too much talk about "blessings" that somehow were always material things.

Our pastor did not have a plane or take hunting trips, but he and his family lived a very wealthy lifestyle. His two young adult sons had their every whim indulged. It was difficult for our own teenager (who was in the inner circle of the youth ministry) to understand that turning 16 did not automatically translate into being led into the garage where his brand-new, ordered-to-his-specifications car would be waiting for him, topped with a giant bow like in the car commercials. This is what had happened for both the pastor's sons when they'd each turned 16 a few years before our son did.

These young men (the pastor's sons) were nice enough fellows, but they'd been so marinated in the atmosphere of pastor-worship that they had a completely inflated sense of their own accomplishments. They both were obviously being groomed to take over the ministry, but because they'd never lived through any financial hard times the way their parents had, they simply did not have the character that their parents did. Also, with the audience pumped and primed to clap and cheer for them no matter how shallow the sermon or how off-key the song (one son preached, the other did music), they really had no clue how they'd stack up in the real world, outside the oddly insulated little community their parents had built.

And sadly, after so many years of living the high life, I think wealth was what had eaten away at their parents' character, too. I believe they began to compromise in what initially seemed like small ways, where they pandered to rich church members and sucked up to their more famous (think TBN guests) mentors. Eventually, the messages by necessity became all about money...and how much we needed the pastor to be blessed, because "anointing flows from the head down."

Don't mean to ramble...but it's still incredible to realize that this exact same garbage has been perpetrated in the name of Jesus all over this country. We've received a lot of emails and comments to this same effect, but it never ceases to amaze us, how the Word of Faith money message is still such a good con.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Religious Lace

Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won't be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they're not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.
2 Timothy 2:15-18 (Message)

By nature, I am a very practical, logical, and realistic person, which is part of the reason why I never fit into the Word of Faith mold. I do not like to waste my words, and I do not like being in a position where I have to listen to someone who does. I firmly believe in the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln when he said that it is "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." When I am not an authority on a situation I know how to keep my mouth shut. However, there are some who don't.

A minister should take his job or "calling" very seriously. He has a captive audience of people who have technically paid admission to be there with their tithes and offerings. The people in our former church were earnestly seeking guidance from God for their daily lives. These people were often in a vulnerable state and faced seemingly insurmountable problems. They were taught that talking about their problems was a "bad confession," and were ashamed to admit that they were depressed, lonely, physically sick, or financially insecure, just to name a few. So these people would gather for church services, ready to hear something that they believed would help them. Not only were they presented with false doctrine, they were also infused with mega doses of vain, useless, and idle talk. (2 Timothy 2:15 Amp)

Years ago, our former church seemed good, with solid teaching from the Bible. It was edgy, which is part of why we liked it. We haven't been able to totally put our finger on what went wrong, but the church took a bad turn somewhere along the way. The pastor and his family did not have much in the way of material things in the beginning, so I believe that at the time, they were probably really using their faith in their daily lives, and the teaching reflected that. Over a period of years, as the church grew, they began to have more money, power, and "prestige,"(self-perceived). The whole Word of Faith network is actually quite political. We watched it firsthand. We were subjected to teaching from ministers who were in error. We went to the pastor several times about one in particular and told him about our concerns. He said that he was a renowned old time minister, and that he would continue to have him come and preach. He did continue to have him in, and the guy continued with his false teaching and just general weird stuff. The pastor told us to just take what was good and "spit out the sticks." I could not understand why we had to listen to a message that had sticks in it.

As the pastor began to prosper, we had to endure hearing about all his new toys and acquisitions. His motorcycle, his new house, his personal gym, his fancy suits and ties, and "his" airplane. He also elaborated on his extravagant vacations and boring hunting trips. Stories about all these things began to filter into his teaching to the point that material possessions became his focus. Tithes and offering were also emphasized more than ever, and the impression was given to everyone that if they tithed, they could experience this same kind of "good life." When the leader loses sight of what the Bible truly teaches, so do the people in the church.

Another trait of the Word of Faith type church is the use of "spiritual fluff." It comes in many forms. One of the most annoying to me is the use of catch phrases throughout the teaching. Some of them are:

"Don't shout me down just 'cause I'm preachin' real good."

"I'm preaching a whole lot better than you're amen-ing".

"Don't look at me in that tone of voice."

I am naming only a few of the many phrases we have heard. As you can see from these, they are often boastful and self-serving. And to me, they have never been funny. I would look around at people who actually would continue to laugh after years of hearing this stuff and wonder what the heck was wrong with them. It is just all part of the control and peer pressure. If you didn't laugh, even if what was said was stupid or crude, you were perceived as having a bad attitude.

Another form of spiritual fluff is used as a filler, so to speak. Constantly saying,"Praise the Lord," "Isn't God good?" "Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah," "Glory to God," "Well, amen," among many others. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with making these statements, but I began to recognize that these phrases were used in a meaningless way in an attempt to spiritualize the words of the speaker. The Message Bible calls it "religious lace."

Matthew 5:33-37 in the Message says:
33-37 "And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong."

The longer we were there, and closer we got to the inner workings of that church, the more we realized that these words were meaningless because they were not backed up by action. I do believe that God desires for us to be comfortable and enjoy material possessions. There is a way to do that without becoming obsessed with it.

I Timothy 6:17-20 in the Message says:
17-19 Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.
20-21 And oh, my dear Timothy, guard the treasure you were given! Guard it with your life. Avoid the talk-show religion and the practiced confusion of the so-called experts. People caught up in a lot of talk can miss the whole point of faith.

- V

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Discerning Deception and Double Talk

Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech.
2 Corinthians 3:12 KJV

Have you ever been confused, befuddled, or annoyed by the speech or method of communication of another person? Have you ever listened to someone talk and had no idea what they just said? Double talk, also known as double speak, is defined as, "deliberately ambiguous or evasive language." Other colorful words to describe it are: balderdash, baloney, hokum, bunkum, drivel, flimflam, rigmarole, and waffling. Hokum and bunkum are my favorites on that list. Sometimes the language is gibberish mixed in with normal speech. Both double talk and double speak may be used in different forms, but with the same intent, which is to deceive, mislead, and/or withhold information.

This "technique," if you will, is often used by politicians. They go around the world, so to speak, to supposedly answer a question, and when they are finished, they are hoping that no one noticed that the question was never really answered. It is very frustrating, isn't it? It is also insulting to your intelligence and sense of reason. Colossians 2:8, in the Message warns us to "watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything." Sometimes it is difficult to muddle through the muck and mire of what was said by many politicians, as well as ministers.

We had to deal with this from the leadership at at our former church. Not that big or intellectual words were used, but it did take on many other forms. One of them was the face to face conversation where you were trying to make a logical point, or you had a legitimate complaint. Logic did not exist there, and complaints were not welcome. So, somehow the conversation had to be twisted to make it look as though everything was somehow all your fault. There were no real answers given, and unless you specifically asked for one, no sincere apologies were made. And, in my opinion, an apology that that you have to solicit from someone is not truly sincere.

I know of a person who tried everything he knew to be a help in a particular area of the church. He was talented and well-liked. He handled many responsibilities in a very capable manner, but kept having them taken away from him with no clear explanation. He would continually ask what he did wrong and would only get a mumbo jumbo answer. Just total nonsense. We found out later that he was getting too close to a situation that the person in charge did not want him to know about, so the attempt was made to discredit him.

Colossians 4:5-6 in the Message says, Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don't miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.

If you were mistreated by the leadership or their family and it bothered you, then you were "offended." If the leadership or their family members were mistreated by someone and it bothered them, they were "hurt." It seemed that they were always the victim in any given situation. That is a manipulative use of semantics. When someone in the congregation messed up, they were harshly corrected and sometimes rudely treated. When the leadership or their family messed up, everyone was admonished not to gossip, and a new series on forgiveness came from the pulpit. That is double talk combined with a glowing example of a double standard.

Watch out for manipulative double talkers. It is very unpleasant to be taken advantage of, and this is a vile form of it. Always mean what you say and avoid those who don't. If someone tries to manipulate you with double talk, just tell them they are full of hokum bunkum.

For a little comic relief, I added this funny clip that gives an extreme example of a double talker who mixes gibberish with normal speech. I hope you like it.

Mr. Doubletalk

- V

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Real Truth about Burnout

What is job burnout? The Mayo Clinic defines it as "a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term exposure to demanding work situations. Burnout is the cumulative result of stress." This can be experienced everywhere within the workplace, and that includes the church setting, with both volunteers and paid staff members.

We saw this happen in many areas of our former church, and, unfortunately, experienced it personally. Burnout is bad enough on its own, but in many church situations there is a lack of sympathy and support when it occurs. One remark that came from the pulpit was, "If you are dissatisfied, then you are disqualified." That, combined with eye rolling and sarcastic comments basically summed up the leadership's position on the subject of burnout. It was interesting that the leadership seemed to be an authority on many issues about which they were actually quite clueless, but, somehow they were still able to impose their selfish philosophy onto everyone in the church.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following as possible reasons for job burnout:

  • Lack of control. Perhaps you're unable to influence decisions that affect your job, such as which hours you'll work or which assignments you get. Perhaps you're unable to control the amount of work that comes in.
  • Unclear job expectations. Examples include uncertainty over what degree of authority you have and not having the necessary resources to do your work.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Examples are working with an office bully, being undermined by colleagues or having a boss who micromanages your work.
  • Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your company does business or handles employee grievances, it will wear on you.
  • Poor job fit. Working in a job that poorly aligns with your interests and skills is certain to become more and more stressful over time.
  • Extremes of activity. When a job is always monotonous or chaotic, you'll need constant energy to remain focused. Over time this energy drain can lead to burnout.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It certainly does to us. We experienced frustration over a lack of control, were often unclear about job expectations because of very poor communication, and were mistrusting of co-workers because the leadership would pit one against the other for "information." We often saw situations handled poorly, but were unable to voice that without seeming to be trouble makers. Many people were placed in jobs that they were not qualified for. And, most importantly, the extremes of activity. Oh My Lord, the extremes. No one's energy levels, stress levels, families, or outside activities were ever considered. You just did what you were told to do without questioning it. You were required to work extra hours, sometimes way into the night. One time it got back to the pastor that people were feeling overworked and stressed out. At a staff meeting, he said, "If you have too much on your plate, then EAT SOME." Why we didn't all get up and scrape our proverbial plates off onto his lap, I do not know. I wish I had.

What is even more of a travesty is to treat volunteers that way. We experienced that first hand, and saw many others experience it as well. Somehow it was thought that it was such an honor to attend this church, and be a part of the helps ministry, that it was worth it, and actually beneficial to you to be harshly corrected on a fairly regular basis. I was hurt so many times that I often literally felt like I had been stabbed in the chest with a knife. And this is at CHURCH, of all places. The truly sad part about this was that the staff members and helps people were what made the ministry look so good, at least until they were run off. The more of a creative and "out of the box" thinker you were, the more of a threat you presented. "Yes men" were much preferred. And, ironically, while everyone else was working themselves into a frenzy, the leadership was very self-pampering, often talking about how they needed rest, going on frequent vacations, and coming in to work whenever they pleased.

Burnout is real, it is created by stress, and stress is very unhealthy. Establish your priorities and don't put your church duties ahead of yourself and your family. It will get you absolutely nowhere, and, unfortunately, I speak that from experience.

- V

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spiritual Peer Pressure

I loved to read and to be read to as a child. I particularly liked any kind of fairy tale. One of my favorites was The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Anderson. This story is about an emperor who is very silly and self-centered, and who loves to flaunt his expensive clothing. He hires two tailors who claim that they will make him a fine suit of clothing that would be invisible to people who were either stupid or unfit for their job or position. The tailors are crooks, of course, but the emperor does not realize that. The emperor is afraid that he will not be able to see the cloth himself, so he sends his ministers to go and look at it. They are not able to see it, either, but act like they can so that they are not deemed as stupid or unworthy. The tailors continue with their "sewing," and when they finish, the emperor dons his new clothes for a procession through town. Everyone raves as he walks by, acting as though they can see the garments, when he actually is not wearing anything. Then a child yells, "But he has nothing on!" The crowd realizes that this is true and begins to laugh, but the emperor goes on as though nothing were wrong.

I always remember being able to relate to the child in the story, and I have seen it played out many times throughout my life since then. I have never been good at hiding my feelings. I will not fake my approval of someone. Sometimes I was a little too honest growing up, and that got me in trouble a few times. I grew up in a home where my mom and dad respected and admired me. My dad always told me how smart I was, and, whether it was true or not, I believed him. He taught me that it was important to form my own opinions about things, and that my opinions mattered. He encouraged me to think for myself. My dad was a good, honest, respectable businessman, and he could spot a phony a mile away. I don't like phonies, either.

There have been many opportunities over the years when I could have said what I really wanted to, just like that child in the story. But I was hindered from doing so by spiritual peer pressure. I had some misgivings about the Word of Faith movement, but we were ready for a change from the status quo of stereotypical religion. It was new and exciting, and it seemed like the right path for us. We felt, in a sense, like pioneers of faith. We ended up in a place, however, that once we were there, bewitched us and held us captive. Not literally, of course, but in a psychological way, like we were emotionally beholding to a church and its controlling leadership. That's where the peer pressure came in.

There were so many things that I didn't feel good about. One of many was the concept of giving to get. The saying went,"If you have a need, sow a seed." Lots of things rhymed like that. One year, in the fall, all the ladies were asked to give money to buy a wealthy minister's wife some of her favorite artwork as "seed" for everyone's upcoming Christmas money. I didn't understand why more emphasis was placed on giving to people who had money than giving to people who didn't. I had never heard of such a thing. We just kept being told what "good ground" they were. A few months later, that same minister's wife came to visit and spent an entire church service boasting about how expensive the playhouse was that she had built for her grandchildren. My husband and I knew that there were people in that service who could not even afford a house to live in, much less a playhouse. It was supposed to create a "vision" in them. All it did was create frustration. That situation, which was repeated in many different versions over the years, was something that we remained quiet about, because we didn't want to be perceived as not being "hooked up."

I never liked or understood the fixation on designer clothes, purses, shoes, or even linens and towels. I was puzzled why anyone would pay $1000 for a purse that had a designer's initials scrawled all over it. Could it be so that everyone would know that it was a designer purse? Hmmm... And how would anyone know that you had only Ralph Lauren towels unless you told them so? Isn't that why you have them, or do they actually dry you off better than regular, normal towels? Please don't get me wrong. I do not think there is anything wrong with nice clothes, shoes, and fluffy towels, but the haughty pretentious spirit and boastful attitude that came with it was what was so disgusting.

I also didn't like laughing in the spirit, dancing the money in, running the money in, or pulling an invisible lever and yelling the money in. I thought it was all totally pointless, ludicrous, and unbelievably selfish. Jut downright embarrassing. I didn't actually say much about it except to my husband, but it was obvious that I was not into it. Like I said, I don't hide my feelings very well. Because of that, I was accused by the leadership of "denying the power of God" by not going along with it all. I actually was criticized and ridiculed many times for what was perceived of as overly conservative behavior. I grew up Baptist, and I found myself longing to study about Lottie Moon, go to January Bible studies, and be able to sing again without having to frolic on stage and follow insanely strict rules and regulations.

These stories are just a drop in the gigantic bucket that ended up being full of all our regrets. We are endeavoring to look at it all in a positive way, however, and are learning from those experiences, as well as hopefully helping others to not make the same mistakes that we did. One thing I have learned is that I can trust my instincts. If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't, so I will question it. If those questions are annoying to the powers that be, then I will go somewhere else. I will stop if I see a red flag. I am never going to blindly accept a man's interpretation of the Bible again. I will read it and study it out for myself. I challenge you to do the same.

Be the child in the story and call it like it truly is. From now on, I know I will.

- V

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

If You Can't Say Amen, Say Oh Me.

Since 1977, I have been listening to messages from the Word of Faith "camp." I have spent a short lifetime listening to cassette tape series, reading the books from the big name leaders, and traveling all over to be in the seminars. I gave 24 years of my life and my family's life to a church that preached the message of health and wealth. When I finally began asking questions about what was going on, I received the "left foot of fellowship" from among the Word of Faith camp.

What happened so that I could no longer say amen to what I was hearing?

The main reason is that I began to hear a message preached that was more about what I could get from God instead of what could I do for Him. The Gospel had changed from being about helping the world to helping me. I call it the "Gospel of Me".

2 Timothy 4:3-5(New International Version)

3. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

It is sad when people get more excited hearing about someone who got their house mortgage paid, or a preacher getting a Harley Davidson than they do about someone who has been born again and set free from the power of sin. I have seen people run around the church believing that it would cause the money to come in, but I do not remember seeing people run around believing for the lost to come in. When I heard preaching about "the harvest," it was referring to the financial blessing that was due us, not the great harvest of souls. It is HIS harvest not ours.

For so many years I sat quietly by and listened to a message that did little to help anyone except the "men of God" that preached it. It seems that the churches that have been involved in preaching this message always seem to have enough money to buy all of the perks for themselves and their leaders, but when someone comes to ask for financial help, there is very little if any available. In many churches the first thing that they cut when money is tight is their missions spending. I am sad that for 24 years I knew better, but somehow I stayed a part of a destructive "cultish" system. I have seen many people hurt and disappointed during this time. We bought a message that had a small amount of truth and so emphasized just one message that we never realized the complete truth and peace that God intended.

Matthew 28:19-20 (New International Version)

19. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20.and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The purpose of the Church is found in the command to go into all the world and make disciples. Somewhere that was forgotten, and we were told that we could show how spiritual we were by how much "stuff" we acquired. I heard of a so called faith preacher that said if preachers did not wear custom made suits, they were not pleasing to God. I wonder how God feels when He hears statements like that?

If the church keeps spending the majority of its resources on itself, and the lost never hear the true Gospel, then there will be some grave consequences for those that make those decisions. Sure, there are good things that have been done, and lives have been changed. But, how much more could we have done for so many more if we had done less for ourselves? The model of church that we have developed in America has become impotent in spreading the Gospel. The church that we see today has very little in common with the church that we see in the Book of Acts.

Several years ago when I was in China, a church leader told me that he hoped that America never exported our form of church to China because if we did, it would destroy the revival that they were experiencing. He said what they saw was that the American church seemed more concerned with building buildings than with saving souls. What would he have thought if he had heard some of the prosperity messages that we have heard?



Sunday, April 6, 2008

Despotism with Nepotism: A Recipe for Disaster

Nepotism is "favoritism granted to relatives or close friends, without regard to their merit. Nepotism usually takes the form of employing relatives or appointing them to high office." This arbitrary practice is seen in business as well as in church settings. It is particularly prevalent in Word of Faith circles. Somehow, the offspring of the pastor receives an "anointing" by genetic predisposition, regardless of whether they have a true call of God on their lives, or a heart for ministry. Or a heart at all.

Despotism is "a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.)" In other words, the leader has total authority and answers to no one. This is also often seen in Word of Faith circles. The congregation is duped into thinking that the leadership is not only in control of their lives, but should be treated with great honor and deference. And, unfortunately, this dutiful and submissive behavior has to also be conveyed to the aforementioned offspring whether they deserve it or not. They are often placed in leadership positions when they have no ability to lead. They are placed in ministry positions when they have no heart for people. More qualified people are overlooked so that this son, daughter, spouse, or all of the above, can hold a position in the church and be on the church payroll.

Nepotism is bad enough medicine to swallow all on its own. But then when you add the unpalatable ingredient of despotic rule, that brings the distasteful situation to a whole new level. Not only do the congregation and staff members have this inept individual forced upon them, they cannot raise even the slightest complaint about them without guaranteed retribution from the leadership. Counseling is handled poorly, if even done at all, privacy is breached, church members and staff members are criticized behind closed doors, loyal staff members have insults hurled at them and are constantly being threatened that they will lose their jobs, money is handled in a questionable manner, and when people leave offended because of these situations, it is considered a good riddance. There are never any apologies for this behavior. As a matter of fact, often when people do complain, they are accused of being the one with the problem. It is a no win situation. If you have found yourself in a church where either or both of these are practiced, my advice to you is to find a new church. No matter how well accepted you think you are by the powers that be, and no matter how right you may be in whatever your situation is, overstep your bounds and you will be trampled on. For the sake of your spiritual and emotional health, if you see this going on in your church, get out before that happens to you.

- V

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Seeker-Friendly Church

There has been increasing rhetoric about the "seeker friendly" church, both positive and negative. The first time I heard the term was in a negative fashion from the leadership of the church I once attended. It seemed that great pride was taken in our church being "a hard church to go to." It was as if it were some exclusive club to which only those who had attained a certain spiritual level could belong. If you could tough it out and stick with the pastor, he would "take you places you never thought you would go." To this day, I am still puzzled about what that prideful and grandiose statement meant. I know of many faithful people who stuck with him that ended up in bad places that they did not expect to be, or want to be. So perhaps, in a sadly ironic way, that statement was true.

A seeker is someone who makes a search or inquiry. The word friendly means to be inclined to approve, help, or support. If someone is searching for a relationship with God, as well as with other believers, then why on earth would we not want to lend help to or support to them? If there are small changes that can be made in the surroundings or the delivery of the message without compromising the integrity of the message itself, then why not do it? Who established all the trappings and traditions that supposedly define church to begin with? Man did, of course. Scripture does not support having to follow a strict dress code in order to be deserving enough to worship God. God sees us all the time. Do you suppose that a person is more pleasing to Him if they wear a suit ? Or a designer dress? To be required to dress to the nines on Sunday morning is obviously to be seen of men. That is simply more pressure and emphasis on image. And that pulls people away from God.

Matthew 11:28-30 in the Amplified says:

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls.
30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good--not harsh, hard, sharp, or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.

And in the Message, it says:

28-30 "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Jesus said that we would find rest in Him, and that His yoke was comfortable and pleasant and His burden was light and easy to be borne. Why then should we give any man the authority to place a burden on us? People have enough to deal with out in the world not to have more stress placed on them by church leadership. Sadly, often the leaders in these kinds of churches are so out of touch with the real world that they are clueless about how to help or even how to create an atmosphere of worship where people can truly seek God for answers.

So, bring on the small groups, the coffee, the casual clothes (including the flip flops), and the pleasant surroundings. If Jesus Himself said it was not supposed to be hard, then who are we to change that?

- V

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Did You Leave the Church or Did the Church Leave You?

Zell Miller is a former U.S. Senator from Georgia, and author of the book, A Deficit of Decency. Senator Miller is a life-long democrat, and also the former Governor of Georgia. After he delivered the introduction speech for George Bush at the 2003 Republican National Convention, many of his life-long friends and supporters were up in arms with him and disclaimed him as a true democrat. Jimmy Carter wrote him a blistering letter and questioned his loyalty to the Democratic Party. As Senator Miller traveled and campaigned for George Bush, many asked him why he had left the Democratic Party. Senator Miller responded to them and said that he had never left the Democratic Party, but that the party had actually left him.

Today many are asked, “Why did you leave your church?” Many times the response should be, “I did not leave the church. The church left me.”
Many people have remained true to the core values of Christian faith, and the truth found in the Gospel, while watching the church embark on a self-seeking journey to redefine what “good news” is.

What has the church done to cause people to feel this way?

1. It has emphasized building an institution more so than building people's lives. Many have been told to work, work, work for the church, and that you were serving God by doing so. I once heard a pastor say, “I got so busy working for God that I forgot to serve Him.” Many people today have put so much time into doing the work of church that they have no desire or time left to worship him.

2. It has spent more money on itself than it has on reaching the world. We need to realize that the church is not about the people that are in it, but it is about those that have not yet come. It is sad that for many years the church in America has spent up to 95% on itself while less than 5% is spent reaching out to the world. Some churches spend more on flowers than they do on reaching the lost. Where you spend your money will show the world where your heart truly is.

3. Lack of moral standards. We have recently seen many ministers fall because of a lack of moral standards. Almost daily we hear of accounts of another pastor or church staff member that has been caught having some type of sexual affair. Many of these situations are made much worse by the church leaders trying to cover them up or downplay the degree of the sin. We hear statements like they just had a “moral indiscretion” or that it was just a “lapse in good judgment.” True repentance requires a turning away from sin, not excuses for it.

4. It has not had oversight of its leaders. Many pastors have no accountability to anyone. In many churches today there is no control over what the pastor does with the money, what he preaches from the pulpit, how he treats the people, or how he manages the church. We have given absolute power to a few and they are so in love with it that they want more. If all that is done by a pastor is true and correct then there should be no fear of the people being able to ask questions.

5. It has not been faithful to preaching sound doctrine. Many of the messages we have heard in churches today hold very little resemblance to the truths that we find in the Word of God. We must get back to the Gospel of Jesus and quit preaching the Gospel of Me.

6. It has not demanded excellence in its leaders. We need excellence of character more than excellence in material things. We also should see church leaders that have a desire to further their education in the things of God and His Word. Society requires plumbers, real estate agents, doctors, nurses, and the like to pass a test before they can be licensed. They must then continue this education to maintain this license. Why do many ministers think that they have already learned all that anyone can teach them, and then look down on those who have worked hard to earn true degrees?

This is only the beginning of an exhaustive list of the pitfalls to watch for in church leaders. We must pray that eyes are opened to the truth, starting with our own. If we ever think that we are the only ones that know what is right, then we have fallen into the very trap that we so need to avoid.

Proverbs 11:2 (KJV) When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.